Friday, April 16, 2010

Asia Society: Fujian Blue

Port towns have a certain unsavory reputation, which the cities of Fujian Province amply fulfill. Home of the “Golden Triangle of illegal immigration,” China’s Fujian is also a border region, neighboring nearby archipelagos controlled by the Republic of China. Not surprisingly there is a lot of money to be made in Fujian, but nearly always at someone else’s expense. Indeed, it is an environment marked by corruption and exploitation that emerges in Robin Weng’s Fujian Blue, which closes the Asia Society’s challenging and timely retrospective of contemporary independent Chinese cinema tonight.

Roppongi and his gang have an ugly little racket going. After he seduces the local “remittance widows” and lonely wives whose husbands work abroad, his gang blackmails them. Untroubled by any semblance of conscience, they extract just enough from their victims to while away their time in karaoke bars or in other more illicit pursuits. However, things start to get a little hot for them when the relatively decent Dragon commits a rash act of violence.

Family structure has frayed to such an extent in Fujian, one of the gang members actually sets up his own mother for one of Roppongi’s sting operations. However, her own contacts with the so-called “snakehead” human traffickers might bring further trouble on the nihilistic youth. Clearly, family bonds are frayed to the breaking point in Blue. While the gang offers a surrogate support system, it only goes so far. Ironically though, it is Dragon who still maintains the closest ties with his family, particularly his younger sister.

Like nearly all of the films in the Asia Society series, Weng’s approach is unsentimentally naturalistic. However, Blue still has a strong narrative structure. The cast is also quite convincing in a way that is somewhat disturbing, given the film’s documentary-like realism and their characters’ morally questionable natures. Yet, what really distinguishes the film is its strong sense of place, depicting a Fujian where McMansions, red-light districts, slums, and the rocky natural beauty of the coastline exist nearly side-by-side.

While most of the films in the Asia Society series reflect the aesthetics of the Jia Zhangke-influenced “Digital Generation” (or d-generate), the selected films taken as a whole represent China’s geographic diversity quite well. Offering pointed social commentary and an unvarnished tour of Fujian, Blue is a strong conclusion to an ambitious film series. It screens tonight (4/16) at the Asia Society.